How I cured my irritable bowel syndrome–healthy gut is needed for healthy body and mind

I’m reposting this because it seems that IBS is incredibly common among people with mental health issues as well as anyone who has been on psychotropics. The simple things I did to get to the root of my gut problem are so easy anyone can do them. I give out this information with some frequency to folks who complain of gut problems and many have now told me this worked for them as well. Gut issues can have many different etiologies so this may simply be a place to start thinking about how to rectify gut issues. Update: 2011 — I discovered I needed a deeper gut healing…even after I got rid of all obvious gut symptoms which manifested as IBS. Long-term gut issues can cause many chronic health problems. Psychiatric drugs can exacerbate these significantly:  For a  list of the more important posts on this blog on gut health go here.

probioticA study has now been completed showing that IBS or irritable bowel syndrome (or less clinically a wastebasket term for ANY gut problems that have no clear etiology!!!) can be “effectively” treated “at least in the short-term” with antidepressants. This is, of course, referring to SSRIs the popular antidepressants which have been shown to be only 2 points better than placebo when dealing with depression and have also now been shown to be contraindicated in bipolar depression completely as they seem to cause more instability rather than improve mood. That’s if you buy using drugs to treat these problems at all, which I do not. So as antidepressants get more and more of a bad rap pharma has to find new victims with which to use their drugs.

Cymbalta for example is being used rather deleteriously for fibromyalgia and lots of other things too.

So yesterday when I saw this article on MedScape on a study for IBS, I, of course, groaned inwardly:

February 27, 2009 — Antidepressants and psychological therapies, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), appear to be effective in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, at least in the short-term, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis of 32 randomized controlled trials.

“Antidepressants appeared to exert their effects independently of any improvement in co-existent depression,” Dr. Alex C. Ford, from McMaster University Medical Center, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, told Reuters Health.

“The take home message for clinicians,” he added, “should be to consider using antidepressants for people who fail first line therapy, and psychological therapies for those with resistant symptoms (i.e., failed more than 1 therapy).”

Of the 32 trials included in the analyses, 19 compared psychological therapies, such as CBT, relaxation therapy and hypnotherapy, with control therapy or usual care; 12 compared antidepressants with placebo; and 1 compared both psychological therapy and antidepressants with placebo.

I suffered from IBS for well over 20 years. The first thing I did when I started looking for alternatives to psych meds for mental health issues was discover that in alternative circles the gut is often blamed for many of all the bodies ills including that of the mind. A healthy gut leads to general good health of body, mind and spirit. Perhaps you’ve heard the quote from Hippocrates: All Diseases Begin in the Gut. He had it right a long long time ago. Disease can end in the gut too if we can heal it.

Being that I’d had IBS for over 2 decades this fact jumped out at me and was a EUREKA moment for me. I needed to fix my gut first and foremost, this I knew. And what’s rather ironic, is that I had already noted that having come OFF my SSRIs my gut actually improved a tiny bit, so take note in the above article that one of the first things they say is that “in the short-term” these drugs may be helpful.

Granted I am only an anecdote of one mere human but I can attest that coming off SSRIs always improved my gut, and taking them never cured my problem either even “in the short-term!”

What I discovered instead was that rather than take other drugs that my gastro docs at the time recommended, which generally had bad side effects and never cured a thing, was that I stopped seeing gastro docs and started studying alternative gut health on the net.

I was lucky enough to figure out my problems through trial and error. I had bad gut flora I realized, that in retrospect was caused by long-term use of antibiotics in high school. I was given Erythromycin for MILD acne for over a year. Antibiotics are now recognized as being very destabilizing to the gut, but still mainstream docs don’t in general address this. It is around this time in my life that I took the long-term course of anti-biotics that my IBS started, but western docs aren’t trained to actually understand what heals, they only learn how to give drugs that help loosen your stool, or harden it up without ever getting to the bottom of the cause of the problem. Drugs only maintain SYMPTOM CONTROL they do not heal. This goes pretty much across the board with many chronic issues in western medicine. And pharma likes it this way. What better way to guarantee a constant source of income than to require patients to take maintenance meds for the rest of their lives. We see this everywhere in medicine. Not just psychiatry.

So once I figured out my gut flora was bad I started using probiotics. Besides causing unpleasant gut symptoms IBS is bad because is causes absorption problems. Absorption problems mean you don’t absorb nutrients and if you don’t absorb nutrients you can’t be healthy and that goes way beyond just your gut. And the flora of your gut is key to this. Taking antidepressants will not heal your flora. They may change your symptoms, but again that has nothing to do with healing.

When I started reading that this problem could lead to malabsorption of nutrients and hence mental health problems I knew it was the first thing I wanted to attend to. There were lots of potential problems the gut could have but the first and easiest thing to do was take probiotics to put the gut flora back in balance. I carefully researched brands and with the advice of a number of people I trusted including one of my best friends who is a naturopathic doctor and chiropractor I started taking Primal Defense by Garden of Life. (I get nothing for promoting this product—it simply worked for me and the site I link to has it for a good deal—it’s an expensive product.) There are many other probiotcs out there and I’m sure there are other good ones.

I had a severe and serious gut problem so I was told to ignore the directions on the bottle which suggest two tablets a day. Instead I worked up one tablet a week until I got to 8 tablets a day. It’s important to do this slowly because if you take too much at once you run the risk of having a die-off reaction of bad bacteria that can make you sick. The good bacteria in the probiotic will make you well if titrated up slowly. I took 4 in the morning and 4 at night once I completed titration. I was cured in 6 months of 20 years of chronic diarrhea. Any way you look at it that’s a good thing. I’ve now recommended this course of treatment to many others who have all manner of gut problems including diarrhea AND constipation and many people have had similar results to my own. AND I don’t have to take the product anymore! I’m cured. No pharmaceutical will do that.

There are other issues that can cause gut problems. I for example also discovered that I’m sensitive to wheat and peppers. I cannot eat either without having a flair up and many people need to figure out if some of the foods they eat are causing gut problems as well. This can be done with an elimination diet, eliminating all possible offending foods.Milk and gluten are the most important ones to eliminate first, but there are a host of other potential foods that can be problematic.

I also pretty much eat an anti-candida diet and candida can cause all these symptoms too. A stool sample tested by a lab such as Genova Labs is a good idea. Your standard gastro doc WILL NOT look for all the right things. You need to go to an integrative or naturopathic doctor. Some chiropractors will do this kind of work too.

The thing is, one need not take yet another maintenance drug for these issues. You do not need to take the above SSRI antidepressant! Especially an antidepressant which has some chance of making you suicidal or manic even if you’ve never had either of those symptoms which will most likely lead your doctor to conclude you’re mentally ill. That has happened to too many people.

You can HEAL your gut and be healthy. You very likely DON’T need medication. Medication to heal the gut is the exception rather than the rule and in fact many of the meds they use for gastro issues make the issues worse.

I also take digestive enzymes every time I eat and I believe that plays a part in keeping my gut healthy.


Not everyone responds to the same things. Here is a post about a diet that is getting lots of success with people who have IBS: Heal your IBS (irritable bowel syndrome): heal your body and mind (features the work of Chris Kresser)

Short video on treating IBS here.

And for the interesting comments from the first time this was posted see here.

2011 — I discovered I needed a deeper gut healing…even after I got rid of all obvious IBS symptoms. Long-term gut issues can cause many chronic health problems. Psychiatric drugs can exacerbate these significantly::  For a  list of the more important posts on this blog on gut health go here.

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